At Casa de Barbie, fans can buy clothes and get their hair styled just like their dolls
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - The idea came to Tito Loizeau in a Buenos Aires shopping mall three years ago: Build a Barbie-themed store and little girls and their parents' money will follow.
Mr. Loizeau's marketing company had set up a small "House of Barbie" promotion for Mattel Inc. inside the mall. He was astounded by the reaction: Girls waited for hours to get in, and mothers made offers on clothes he'd hung up for decoration - never mind that they didn't have anything to do with Barbie.
"It would be a pink shirt you could buy anywhere in the mall," Mr. Loizeau said, "But they'd want the shirt because it was associated with Barbie."
So he set out to open the world's first Barbie "fashion-tainment" store, where girls can get glittery hairdos and make up at the Barbie beauty parlor or try on gowns and play with dolls in the Barbie playroom, all while their parents nibble pink-frosted desserts in the Barbie cafe.
Mr. Loizeau, 37, spent a year persuading Mattel, of El Segundo, Calif., to license the idea. Then he and two associates put up $500,000 of their own money to open the "Barbie Store."
Mr. Loizeau's group has exclusive rights to the "Casa de Barbie" store license in Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, plus first-option rights in the rest of Latin America. Mattel gets a percentage of sales and the right to expand the concept anywhere else worldwide.
The store opened in September and now Buenos Aires' chic Palermo neighborhood, home to swank restaurants, boutiques, and tony townhouses, is all abuzz with Barbie.
While some parents may bemoan Barbie's conspicuous consumption and her particular image of womanhood, she appears have plenty of adoring fans in the Argentine capital.
"There are girls who come every single day," Mr. Loizeau said. "No one understands it."
The $7-an-hour playroom inside the store has toys and dolls, costumes, make up, and jewelry, and a small catwalk for girls to parade on under disco lights. The store also includes a beauty salon, where girls can get everything from a glamorous hairstyle to a painted butterfly on a cheek, plus a coffee shop. And the Barbie playroom is available for parties, starting at around $650.
A few Barbies are for sale, but selling dolls isn't the retail focus of the store. Instead, there are T-shirts, skirts, pants, and handbags - most in shades of pink - that are designed and made in Argentina and only available at the Barbie Store. The items sell for 10 percent more than similar clothes at other stores without the Barbie logo, Mr. Loizeau said.
The store's revenue topped projections by 40 percent, Mr. Loizeau said, although he keeps his financial figures private.
The Argentine store is the latest Barbie-related licensing venture for Mattel, the world's largest toy maker, which has struggled with several high-profile recalls this year involving Chinese-made toys.
"We've done a lot of work to maintain Barbie's relevance by extending her into other parts of a little girl's life," said Mattel's Richard Dickson, who oversees non-toy extensions of the Barbie brand.